Understanding the Coronavirus Crisis: Key Fiscal and Economic Indicators | Peter G. Peterson Foundation

Understanding the Coronavirus Crisis

Key Fiscal and Economic Indicators as the Nation Responds and Recovers

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is an unprecedented national emergency requiring a significant federal response. This page provides resources and analysis, tracking the actions our leaders are taking to respond, and providing insights on the state of America’s fiscal and economic outlook during the recovery.

GDP Growth


Q3 2020

While U.S. economic output rebounded significantly last quarter, it remains below pre-pandemic levels.

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Cumulative Budget Deficit

$3.1 Trillion

Cumulative Deficit for Fiscal Year 2020.

The federal deficit is more than triple the shortfall recorded last fiscal year.

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Unemployment Rate


December 2020

The unemployment rate has improved from its peak of 14.7 percent in April 2020, which was the highest of any month since January 1948 — when data were first collected.

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Cost of Coronavirus Legislation

$2.6 Trillion

Total Cost of Enacted Legislation to Date

Lawmakers have passed legislation funding a range of new and existing programs aimed at providing economic relief.

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Interest Rates


Interest Rate on 10-Year Treasury Notes, as of December 9, 2020

The Treasury has been able to borrow cheaply because the Federal Reserve has lowered interest rates in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Gross Federal Debt

$27.4 Trillion

As of December 4, 2020

The amount of federal debt held by the public is anticipated to exceed the size of the economy by next fiscal year.

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Real GDP Growth

Indicator Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Domestic Product, October 2020.

Note: That number reflects the percent change in real GDP from the preceding quarter. It is reported at an annualized rate.

Cumulative Budget Deficits

Indicator Source: Department of the Treasury, Monthly Treasury Statement, Issue for September 2020.

Note: The federal fiscal year begins on October 1 and ends on September 30.

Unemployment Rate

Indicator Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation — December 2020, January 2021.

Total Cost of Coronavirus Legislation Enacted

Indicator Source: Congressional Budget Office, The Effects of Pandemic-Related Legislation on Output. September 2020

Note: The indicator reflects the sum of the estimated deficit costs of the legislation over the 2020–2030 period.

Interest Rates

Indicator Source: U.S. Department of the Treasury, Treasury Auction Results, December, 2020.

National Debt

Indicator Source: Peter G. Peterson Foundation, What Is the National Debt Today?, December 2020.

Note: Each business day, the U.S. Department of the Treasury reports the amount of debt outstanding at the end of the previous business day. Our formula uses that number, as well as debt projections from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), to estimate the rate at which the debt is currently growing. Our estimates reflect the latest information from Treasury and CBO projections that are updated 2–3 times per year.

Gross federal debt equals debt held by the public plus debt held by federal trust funds and other government accounts. In very basic terms, this can be thought of as debt that the government owes to others plus debt that it owes to itself.


The Latest and Trending

Latest insights from the Peterson Foundation on the fiscal and economic impact of the coronavirus crisis.

What is the Economic Damage from the Coronavirus?

It will take time to fully understand and measure the full impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the U.S. economy. However, recent insights and projections paint a clear picture of significant damage affecting every American family and business.


The coronavirus pandemic is upending the labor market, causing unemployment conditions not seen since the Great Depression.

Unemployment Remains High as Improvements in the Labor Market Have Stalled

Despite improvements to the labor market since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment rate remains high, especially for non-white workers. Get the facts here.

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The Coronavirus Pandemic Continues to Cause Massive Increase in Claims for Unemployment Insurance

Claims for unemployment insurance have skyrocketed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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  • Niskanen Center

Impact of the COVID-19 Crisis on Women’s Employment

The Niskanen Center explores how the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a sharp decline in women’s employment.

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  • Economic Policy Institute

Six Months into the Recession and a 11.5 Million Jobs Deficit Remains

The Economic Policy Institute looks at the amount of jobs lost during the pandemic and which groups have been affected the most.

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Economic Growth

The response to the coronavirus has drastically affected the economy as consumption decreases, businesses are shuttered, and jobs are lost. Below are some resources outlining the depth of the economic impact of the pandemic.

Q3 GDP Shows Big Jump, But Economy Remains Below Pre-Pandemic Levels

The increase represents a significant rebound in economic activity, but many caution that the recovery is far from complete.

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IMF Releases Most Pessimistic Economic Projections for the U.S. to Date

These drastic projections underscore the strain of the coronavirus pandemic on the economy.

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See How COVID-19 has Impacted 10-Year Projections for GDP and More

New CBO projections underscore the severe economic damage the pandemic has caused.

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  • Brookings

Racial Economic Inequality Amid the COVID-19 Crisis

This study by the Brookings Institution highlights how the pandemic and its economic consequences are disproportionately affecting Black Americans.

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What Have Policymakers Done About the Coronavirus?

Legislators have responded to the initial impact of the coronavirus pandemic and additional phases of relief are likely to come.

Legislative Actions to Date

Policymakers have enacted a number of initial relief packages designed to address the unique health and economic aspects of the pandemic.

Here’s Everything Congress Has Done to Respond to the Coronavirus So Far

A recap of legislation enacted to date and an overview of what some analysts believe future support should look like.

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Breaking Down Coronavirus Relief Spending

How much direct aid has been disbursed so far, and how has it been used?

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What’s in the CARES Act? Here’s a Summary

The $2 trillion relief package is the largest in history. Here’s what’s in it.

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Poll: 82% of Americans Want Federal Relief Extended

Respondents were more likely to believe the pandemic will get worse in their communities, and many support extending federal economic relief legislation.

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How Does the U.S. Economic Response to the Coronavirus Compare to the Rest of the World?

The coronavirus has affected the economies of countries across the world. See how the U.S. response compares to other countries.

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  • Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

COVID Money Tracker: Policies Enacted To Date

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget is tracking the financial actions taken to address the current crisis.

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Several Coronavirus Relief Programs are Set to Expire Soon

Here's an overview of some of the federal programs that face impending deadlines or are set to expire soon.

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Program Spending

To help mitigate the economic impact of the coronavirus, lawmakers are providing funding for a number of new and existing programs in several key areas.

Safety Net Programs

Certain government programs are central to supporting the most vulnerable Americans during this time of economic distress.

The Coronavirus Has Led to a Surge in Spending on Unemployment Compensation

Federal spending on unemployment has been rising drastically. Here are the numbers.

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Spending on Medicaid Spiked Due to the Pandemic

With a massive reduction in economic activity and increased unemployment, many more Americans are relying on SNAP, resulting in increased federal spending on the food security program.

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How Has the Pandemic Affected Federal Spending on SNAP?

As unemployment numbers spike, many more Americans are relying on SNAP, resulting in increased federal spending on the food security program.

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How Will the Pandemic Impact Social Security’s Finances?

Social Security’s finances were already in trouble — and that was before the effects of the pandemic.

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  • EconoFact

The Social Safety Net in the Era of COVID-19

Econofact scholars discuss the importance of safety net programs during the pandemic.

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Relief for Individuals

In response to the pandemic, the government has provided both direct and indirect aid to individuals in the form of stimulus checks, student debt relief, and more.

How Many Coronavirus Stimulus Checks Have Been Sent Out So Far?

Congress has authorized direct payments to millions of Americans to help mitigate the financial burden of the coronavirus pandemic.

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Breaking Down the $32 Billion of Airline Industry Payroll Support in Coronavirus Relief Legislation

The CARES Act provides up to $32 billion in federal aid to maintain employment in the airline industry. Here’s where that money is going.

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  • The Institute for College Access and Success

Resources for Student Loan Borrowers

The CARES Act provided some relief to student loan borrowers. The Institute for College Access & Success summarizes that aid and how it affects students.

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Small Business Support

Support for small businesses could be crucial to ensuring the health of the U.S. economy.

What Support Are Small Businesses Receiving During the Coronavirus Pandemic?

An overview of the various programs the federal government has funded to support small businesses.

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  • American Action Forum

Tracker: Paycheck Protection Program Loans

In this up-to-date tracker, the American Action Forum is charting the allocation of Paycheck Protection Program funds.

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  • Washington Center for Equitable Growth

Revamping U.S. Small Business Rescue Programs Amid the Coronavirus Recession

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth provides resources and suggestions on how policymakers can help to strengthen small businesses.

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Aid to State and Local Governments

Providing assistance to state and local governments is essential to helping them respond to the pandemic.

How Much Coronavirus Funding Has Gone to Your State?

Review our state-by-state breakdown of how much federal funding has been distributed thus far.

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Pandemic May Cause States to Slash Social Services, Education, Police Budgets, and More

Governments warn that a budget crunch due to the coronavirus may lead to cuts to vital services.

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How Were State Budgets Doing Before the Economic Slowdown? And How Might the Pandemic Change Things

Some states were better prepared than others to handle this crisis according to a new report from the Volker Alliance.

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What Is the Coronavirus Relief Fund? How Much Is Left in It?

The Coronavirus Relief Fund allocates $150 billion in direct federal fiscal support to governments in states, territories, and tribal areas.

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  • National Governors Association

National Governors Association Calls on Congress to Come Together on Coronavirus Relief

The bipartisan organization of the nation’s governors called on Congress to provide aid to states and reach agreements on COVID-19 relief.

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  • American Enterprise Institute

New Estimates of State and Local Government Revenue Shortfalls

The American Enterprise Institute updated their estimates of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on state government sales and income tax revenues.

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How Well Has the Coronavirus Fiscal Response Been Working?

In a new series, we explore how effective the fiscal response has been and evaluate the effectiveness of the major programs that were included in it.

How Did the Fiscal Response to the Coronavirus Help the Economy?

The first piece in our series on the effectiveness of the fiscal response to the coronavirus pandemic, will take a look at how the government’s response to the pandemic affected the nation’s economy.

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What Role Did the U.S. Safety Net Play in the Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic?

Despite the increased federal deficit, the expansion of safety net programs have led to generally effective stimulus of the economy. Learn more in our analysis of several programs including Unemployment Insurance, SNAP, and Medicaid.

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How Did Americans Spend Their Stimulus Checks and How Did It Affect the Economy?

The CARES Act granted stimulus checks to Americans to mitigate economic damage, but was it effective? Find out how stimulus checks affected the economy.

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How Effective Has the Coronavirus Relief Fund Been in Helping State and Local Governments?

In this piece we evaluate the degree to which federal funding assistance from the Coronavirus Relief Fund has helped other levels of government

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How Did the Fiscal Response to Coronavirus Help Small Businesses?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has hit such businesses especially hard, leading to significant reductions in their revenues and workforce.

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How Much Has Coronavirus Relief Helped Healthcare Providers?

To mitigate the difficulties facing the healthcare sector, the federal government has enacted a number of grants, loans, and other programs.

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Which Coronavirus Relief Programs Provide the Most Bang for the Buck?

While there is no single ideal way to deal with such a complex policy challenge as the pandemic, we can glean insights about how our responses have been working.

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How Does the Coronavirus Affect the Long-term Outlook?

This crisis has revealed a lack of preparedness on many fronts, including our fiscal condition. America entered the pandemic with already high and rising debt and deficits due to structural factors in our budget. As we take necessary steps to fight the coronavirus, it’s clear that our fiscal outlook will worsen significantly. Once the current crisis is over, we must come to terms with our lack of national preparedness and our inability to plan for the future in many areas.

The National Debt and Deficit

The national debt is a key issue for America’s future.

This Year We Saw the Largest Budget Deficit Since 1945, Driven Largely by the Pandemic

The federal budget deficit was $3.1 trillion in fiscal year 2020, which ran from October 2019 to September 2020.

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New Analysis: Pandemic Accelerates Existing Fiscal Challenges

The most recent CBO report shows that the pandemic accelerated an already unsustainable fiscal trajectory.

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Legislation to Fight Pandemic Has Reduced Federal Revenues by $500 Billion

The coronavirus relief bills included multiple tax credits and tax incentives that will reduce federal revenues over the next decade.

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The Current Federal Deficit and Debt

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the U.S. fiscal picture. Explore the monthly statistics on the federal budget and the national debt here.

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How Are We Paying for the Federal Response to the Coronavirus?

The Department of the Treasury has been able to finance the coronavirus relief spending at very low interest rates.

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What Is the National Debt Today?

An up-to-the-second counter of the national debt and more information about why it matters.

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How Does the Treasury Issue Debt?

As the United States borrows a significant amount of money to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, learn more about Treasury borrowing.

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The Peter G. Peterson Foundation is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that is dedicated to increasing public awareness of the nature and urgency of key fiscal challenges threatening America's future, and to accelerating action on them. To address these challenges successfully, we work to bring Americans together to find and implement sensible, long-term solutions that transcend age, party lines and ideological divides in order to achieve real results.